In Vinyl Retentive, A.V. Clubbers share what we find while crate-digging in our own houses.
Deep Purple In Rock
Warner Bros., 1970
File Under: Bulldozing proto-metal
Key track: "Bloodsucker"
There are a hundred bands that might've served as the primary inspiration for Spinal Tap–but that dubious honor pretty much goes to Deep Purple. Instead of descending from fictional British Beat combos with names like The Thamesmen and The New Originals, members of Deep Purple belonged to the real-life groups The Artwoods and The Ivy League in the swingin' mid-'60s. Both Spinal Tap and Deep Purple went through a psychedelic phase, too, before becoming titans of '70s hard rock–titans that withered into punch lines by the time the '80s rolled around.
Make no mistake, though: Deep Purple In Rock is no joke.
By the time 1970 hit, Deep Purple was already kind of washed up. They'd had one hit in 1968–an awesome version of Joe South's "Hush," a trippy pop nugget driven by Jon Lord's chunky Hammond organ (a sound that every Madchester band in England would leap on 20 years later). But a stab at Moody Blues/Procol Harum-style symphonic rock tanked in 1969, leaving Deep Purple scrambling to survive.
Most bands with the same Bach-checking tendencies as Deep Purple wound up playing prog–Keith Emerson's transition from The Nice to ELP being a prime example. But Deep Purple, for some sick reason, decided to get ugly, snaggle-toothed, and knuckle-dragging on its 1970 full-length Deep Purple In Rock. The debuts of Black Sabbath and Uriah Heep also came out that year, and In Rock interlocks with them like a piece of a puzzle. Heavy, dark, heavy, mean, filthy, heavy, and dumb, the album embodies everything that metal would become: Each song is brutally indelible, with Lord's gooey organ smeared like the innards of its slaughtered victims all over the marauding, Viking-on-a-Harley riffs of guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. The cover of In Rock is just as much of a statement as the music inside: Call it hubris, call it balls, call it the most pants-pissingly ridiculous piece of self-mythology this side of, well, Spinal Tap.
"Bloodsucker," for some masochistic reason, is usually the first song I reach for when I'm craving Deep Purple. The gear-stripped distortion, the brain-deflating organ solo, the ham-fisted start-stop ploy for instrumental tension–they're all pulled off with total conviction and savage cunning. (And maybe even a foil-wrapped cucumber stuffed down the front of the trousers.) Still, not all traces of orchestral cosmic-ness had been purged from Deep Purple by 1970. Behold In Rock's 10-minute centerpiece, "Child In Time," a song that almost single-handedly established the operatic wail destined to typify all headbanging drama-mongers from Rob Halford to Bruce Dickinson and beyond. Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan hits high notes that scrape the heavens–or, at the very least, that tender membrane lining your parietal lobe:
Deep Purple ultimately blew up with 1972's massive Machine Head, the source of soon-to-be-exhausted hits like "Space Truckin'" and "Smoke On The Water." They pale in comparison to In Rock's viciously catchy "Speed King" and "Flight Of The Rat"–the latter of which can legitimately claim to be the missing link between The MC5's "Looking At You" and Hawkwind's "Urban Guerrilla" (only dripping with even more drool and dogshit). Gillan is somehow able to prop up purloined Little Richard lines and incessant bragging about his capacity for hard lovin' alongside lopsided monuments to mongoloid, pseudo-mystical majesty. It's amazing that–within the span of a year–Deep Purple morphed from a band slightly too stupid to play symphonic prog into a band slightly too smart to play thug-rock. It's almost like Flowers For Algernon or something. Sorta. Or, um, not really at all.
Current whereabouts: After the release of classic-rock mainstays like "Woman From Tokyo" and a few more lineup changes (the legendary Tommy Bolin, future Whitesnake singer David Coverdale, and future Black Sabbath singer Glenn Hughes all served time), Deep Purple broke up in 1976. The group reformed in 1984 and has kept on rockin'–amid turnover, turmoil, and being trumped by its own big-screen caricature–ever since.
Availability: You can find a three-buck copy of Deep Purple In Rock–likely littered with pot stems and scarred by Schlitz cans–at just about any used record store in America. Or you can download it, if you don't want to get your pretty little fingers dirty.